From the very beginning of the history of cinema in Burkina Faso, women have played a prominent role. Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, home to the legendary FESPACO, the biennial pan-African film festival, is also known as the capital of African cinema. Burkina Faso’s commitment to the promotion of African cinema spans forty years with the creation of the festival in 1969, and is found among the highest levels of government.
The country’s president bestows the Etalon de Yennenga, the grand prize of the festival to the winner. General Secretaries of the Festival have gone on to hold other important posts in the government. Two women were among the organizers of the first festival: Alimata Salembéré, a director of the RTV (Radiodiffusion Télévision Voltaïque) at the time, was president of the organizing committee; while Odette Sangho, a representative of the CCFV (Comité d’Animation du Centre Culturel Franco Voltaïque), was a member of the program committee. Women continued to be visible in the subsequent Organizing Committees, notably Simone Aïssé Mensah who took over the presidency for the second FESPACO and continued in this position through the fourth. The Festival is directed under the Secretary General, a post that Alimata Salembéré held from 1982 to 1984, thus overseeing the 8th FESPACO in 1983.
During the week-long festival, students are on holiday and participate in the various activities. The inclusion of youth dates to the first festival in 1969. At the request of the Organizing Committee, Jacqueline Ki-Zerbo, the director of the Cours Normal de Jeunes Filles (and also the wife of the renowned historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo) assembled sixteen girls to participate as hosts to welcome the many guests. One may note among Burkinabé films, the visibility of children as main protagonists. Notably, Gaston Kaboré’s 1982 classic film Wend Kuuni for which the young Rosine Yanogo won the best actress award for her role as Pognéré. The 1997 festival theme, "Cinema, Childhood and Youth" emphasized the significance of cultivating the experiences of African youth as it relates to cinema. Florentine Yaméogo elaborates this point: “I was very pleased with the choice of this year's theme, because it was a theme in which I was already interested. Through this topic, I felt that we were given the opportunity to really think about the impact that images have on our children...We are realizing that if we make films that address their needs in particular, that treat themes and subjects that interest them, that, in fact, we will actually participate in their intellectual, cultural and physical development.”
Also located in Ouagadougou, are the Cinémathèque africaine, an infrastructure for the conservation of African films as well as a location for research and study, and the MICA (International African Film Market), whose current president is Suzanne Kourouma. In addition, Ouagadougou was the location of the Institut Africain d'Education Cinématographique (INAFEC), the historic film school at the Université de Ouagadougou where some two hundred students throughout the continent were trained between 1976 and 1987. The core curriculum at INAFEC was multifaceted with a focus on areas such as radio, television, print journalism, scriptwriting, editing, and film production. The curriculum required that the students first learn scriptwriting and editing, and then work with an assistant director before learning to direct. After completing the core curriculum, there was the choice between two divisions, one for those who specialized in cinema; and the other for those who specialized in communication.
Many of the first generation of Burkinabé women in cinema were trained at INAFEC: Aminata Arby Boly, Valérie Kaboré, Marie Jeanne Kanyala, Suzanne Kourouma-Sanou, Adjaratou Lompo-Dadjoari, Fanta Régina Nacro, Aminata Ouedraogo and Téné Traoré. They currently work in some aspect of cinema, such as filmmaker, film editor, scriptwriter, film critic, film distributor, film producer and film organizer. Women who have made equally important contributions have trained in other programs in Burkina Faso, Europe as well as the United States: Sarah Bouyain, Benjamine Douamba, Henriette Ilboudo, Martine Condé Ilboudo, Benjamine Nama, Franceline Oubda, Danièle Roy, Kadidia Sanogo, Cilia Sawadogo, Apolline Traoré, and Florentine Yaméogo.
Burkina Faso has an early tradition of women making important contributions to society; Princess Yennenga and Queen Sarraounia are two illustrious examples. The Etalon de Yennenga, the grand prize of FESPACO, is represented by a statue with the image of Yennenga astride a stallion. Franceline Oubda describes the importance of this representation:
“You have seen that in a conscious or unconscious way, the image of Princess Yennenga is the grand prize of FESPACO, which is very significant. It demonstrates the importance of women in society. And I think to have this prize is a crowning achievement. And we women must fight so that women will achieve this.
If we succeed in obtaining the Etalon de Yennenga, the efforts of women will be crowned and we will have reached a certain objective. Princess Yennenga was the proof of courage and bravery, the proof of endurance, and she was a woman who did a great deal in Burkina history. I think to fight for a woman to obtain the Yennenga is truly a step forward, and it will be for the greater welfare and improved standard of women in general.”
Sarraounia, the legendary Mossi queen, was the subject of the 1986 film by Mauritanian Med Hondo. The film by the same name, recounts the African resistance to the French invasion of the present day Burkina Faso, led by Queen Sarraounia. Aï Keita, who made her debut in the role of Sarraounia notes the tremendous support that the country gives to filmmaking efforts (the film was co-produced with Burkina Faso). Even though this was her debut role, she became wildly popular after it won the Etalon de Yennenga. Similarly, Amssatou Maïga, also a first time actress in her role as the adult Pognéré, became a household name after Buud Yam, a sequel to Wend Kuuni also by Gaston Kaboré, won the Etalon de Yennenga. Beyond the interest in actors based on star appeal, there is appreciation for the contribution that actors make. The 2003 FESPACO celebrated African actors and actresses under the title: The role of the actor in the creation and promotion of African cinema. Nonetheless, African actors and more specifically actresses have had to push for representation in the form of an actors guild. Towards this effort, actress Georgette Paré created the association, Casting Sud, to promote and support the interest of African actors.
An entire generation of Burkinabé has been raised in a cinema culture thanks to the country’s expansive role in cinema. Thus it is not surprising that women have played an important part from the start and continue to have the support and encouragement to enter into the diverse areas of cinema and to succeed.
In a recent interview, Aminata Ouedraogo attributes this high visibility of women to the initiatives of INAFEC. With its multi-faceted curriculum, graduates were prepared to work in diverse areas of audiovisual production. This practice is evident in the experiences of many of its alumnae. During her professional career Aminata Ouedraogo has made several films and now devotes her time to the pan-African organization for African women film professionals created at FESPACO in 1991. In addition to her filmmaking duties, Valerie Kaboré divides her time to research in communication and development and as director of Media 2000, a film production company based in Ouagadougou. Fanta Nacro who has attained international prominence, is an advocate for the empowerment of women in cinema, which is reflected in her relationship to women professionals in front of and behind the camera in all phases of the filmmaking process. Though the school is defunct, it has set in place a cadre of women (as well as men) thus forging a tradition for future generations to continue in its footsteps.
Patrick G. Ilboudo. Le FESPACO 1969-1989: Les Cinéastes africains et leurs oeuvres. Editions La Mante, 1988.
Hamidou Ouedraogo. Naissance et evolution du FESPACO de 1969 à 1973: Les Palmares de 1976 à 1993. Burkina Faso, 1995.
Relevant Links:Timeline of Burkinabé Women in Cinema
Listing of Film Professional of Burkina Faso (in French)
From the African Women in Cinema Blog:
From the African Women in Cinema Blog: